Ian Ringtead loves a Hifi Show and has been going to them for many a long year…

Hifi shows love them or hate them, have been going for a long time and I for one have attended for over 40 years and still get excited when the next one comes around. My adventures into hifi as a teenager were fuelled by magazines, window shopping and finally going to actual shows to see and hear my beloved products. Shows used to be on a grand scale and in the 70’s and early 80’s the best show was at Harrogate,where several large hotels based in the town centre (The Majestic in particular) had lovely large rooms which lent themselves rather well to the best systems of the time. There was plenty of room to move around and as long as you organised your itinerary well you could leisurely see and hear everything without the rooms being overcrowded and too hot.

When I was a Lad

One year Cerwin Vega were demonstrating some large 15″ speakers that were very efficient and went very loud (a trademark of that company) in a smaller room along one corridor playing the 1812 overture, and when the cannon sounded near the end they had to open the windows to stop the glass being possibly broken due to the air pressure being so great. It may not have been an accurate sound but it was certainly impressive to some folk. Japanese manufacturers like Hitachi and Sansui used to make fabulous looking amps with large VU power meters and were festooned with knobs and lots of controls. As a young man I was mightily impressed. I visited London in the 70’s and went to Sansui’s main showroom which was an amazing experience as Quadraphonic sound was still popular then and companies like Sansui and JVC really tried to get this technology off the ground. Sadly this never took off and was ditched due to lack of interest by the music industry and poor customer interest in adopting another sound format when stereo was the king and still is today.

The Times They Were A Changing

As the 80’s moved on companies attitudes changed and the larger venues became unpopular due to costs and possibly lower attendance rates. London became the next epicentre for quality hifi shows and the Penta hotel at London Heathrow airport was the place to be. It was a pain to get to if you didn’t live in or near London, but from an international dealer or manufacturers point of view it was great as they could just fly in, unload and set up quickly and easily and then pack up when going back home. American companies in particular liked this and there was a plethora of American brands at one time, but as time went on and budgets tightened they stopped coming and decided shows in Vegas (CES) and Rocky Mountain Audiofest were better for them and most of their sales probably came from that continent anyway. Japanese companies were more shrewd having global markets that they wanted to dominate with high quality cheaper products. That was fine whilst the general population wanted a hifi system and was high on their must have list but this all changed in the 90’s when sales slowed down for them dramatically, and many pulled out of traditional hifi or reduced their product range considerably.hi-fi show

This all meant shows in the UK started to become regionalised as London became less popular for northerners etc. to travel to. Bristol became very popular and still is for manufacturers to launch new products in February, Whittlebury in September is more central and Hi Fi News has their show in October now for the very high end brands.

New Kids On The Block

Last year The North West Audio Show at Cranage Hall in Cheshire became a very welcome newcomer for up and coming smaller manufacturers as well as the more established brands bringing a great mix of differing products and budgets to suit everyone’s pockets. Next year Cranage will be over two venues due to its popularity and an exciting new fresh format which attracts not just the older enthusiast like me, but wives and families. This is essential if we want to keep our beloved hobby and passion alive. Music is the driving force but we need the youngsters to adopt our enthusiasm for reproducing our favourite tunes on great kit not mobile phones and downloads of poor quality.

The format of shows has changed as well going from large venues (unlike CES and Munich) because the UK general public just don’t have the same interest in hifi anymore. The internet and changes in lifestyle have dramatically altered people’s hobbies and interests over the last 40 years, even music which once dominated Thursday evenings with Top of the Pop’s and the charts is now a distant memory and youngsters probably aren’t even aware of its existence unless enlightened by their parents. People would regularly buy records in their millions each week and singles drove the charts. What a difference a few decades makes.

So shows are still vital to keep our interest in music and the equipment we so love alive and kicking. Manufacturers and designers need somewhere to exhibit their ideas and wares and for us, the buying public and hobbyists, to have our needs satisfied. As hifi retail outlets become scarcer due to running a business becoming more and more challenging and companies now selling online to maintain an edge by keeping costs down and offering better value for money, the public need venues in order to sample new products under one roof and discover exciting new companies and groundbreaking new designs. Hifi is forever evolving to keep us interested and seduce us like any other business wanting our money. Passion drives inventors and innovators and shows help fulfil our desires. Long live the show.

Ian Ringstead

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